Saying that journalists and PR people have a love-hate relationship is like saying I watch too much trashy TV.
But lately there has been a lot of back and forth between people on the PR side and the journalist side, which was spurred by this post from Jennifer Pan. It’s worth a read, but she basically writes about why PR people (made up mostly of women, which raises gender bias questions in its own right) shouldn’t be so hated and publicly vilified by journalists because we’re just filling a natural “emotional labor” role in the machine.
Subsequently, a writer for Gawker (who regularly posts bad PR pitches on their site) responded to her post by saying that, despite sympathizing with the toils of PR, he still argues against the role of PR in general. He says that it is still just big corporations throwing their big bucks at buying friendly faces to distract or mislead the public into liking them.
OK, so he basically called the entire PR industry – made up of a lot of former journalists, I might add – a soulless illusionist show sponsored by major corporations. Still, he does feel bad that we (PR people) got stuck in this game where everyone yells at us and where we’re brainwashed into believing whatever we’re told.
Here’s the thing: we don’t deserve that sympathy. Yes, the hours and stress can be rough. Yes, it sucks when we spend hours researching reporters who we think would be interested in a story, only to get a “pass” (wait – actually, I’ll take a pass…it’s the total silence that really sucks). And, yes, it hurts our feelings when journalists view us as misleading telemarketers.
But why would we need sympathy when we get to call a startup CEO who has poured her heart and soul into her business and tell her that a major news outlet wants to cover her hard work and show how she’s helping people solve a common or expensive problem?
Why would we need sympathy when a reporter says, “yeah, that’s much cooler than what [insert big corporation here] has done”?
Why would we need sympathy when a local non-profit gets on the local news and sees a boost in the number of signatures they need to get their issue on the ballot, and them a little closer to making a difference?
Unfortunately, the Gawker piece only refers to cold, heartless corporations as the behind-the-curtain reason for such an empty, misleading industry. No mention of non-profits that might not describe PR as empty and misleading, but instead as “how we can build support that helps the communities we serve,” or the startups that might describe it as “how we can compete with our big corporate competitors without having the same deep pockets they have for expensive ad buys and marketing efforts.”
I know it’s easy to lump in PR people with the cigar-smoking lobbyists who are pulling the media’s puppet springs (OK, I’m just thinking of the John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd characters in The Campaign), but we’re not. And I’m sure a lot of lobbyists aren’t either (watch, now I start a beef between PR and lobbyists).
I’d say a majority of us are just trying to make sure journalists don’t miss out on stories that their readers might think are cool, that might solve a problem, that might make them think or that might make a difference.
Instead, put your sympathy toward the people who should know better than to announce publicly their embarrassing addiction to questionable TV…but do it quietly, I’m watching Real Housewives.
George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” Yeesh, Orwell. We all know you were a tough critic of news and media, but this thinly veiled insult stings. If mighty Orwell has this opinion about my profession, this begs the question: how do journalists feel about PR?
Apparently I’m not the only one asking. Google “Journalists and PR” and you’ll find dozens of articles on the subject, ranging in tone from motivating “how to” lists to hostile diatribes. One of the better pieces written earlier this year by The Economist titled “Dear Flacks… Love Hack” compares the journalist-public relations relationship to a bribery negotiation. The author then lists common mistakes we PR flacks make when pitching our client’s news.
So what are these egregious errors? I’ll set aside typos because that is an error made by anyone and everyone, no matter the profession. However, the big mistake, mentioned in all of the advice and complaint articles, cannot be ignored: Pitching the wrong person. Also known as pitching the real estate guy when you want the tech gal. Also known as pitching anyone and everyone with the hope that someone will at least open your email and give you a chance. Also known as spam.
We all know spam is THE WORST. Peeling back the layers even further, this issue is actually about lack of research. There’s really no excuse. In this age of information, we have the ability to conduct outreach to any and all publications and their reporters, using any and all mediums (email, Twitter, phone, and on and on). In other words, if I know that Rob Kardashian didn’t attend the Kimye wedding, I sure as hell should know who writes about startups for The New York Times.
Another way to know whom to pitch is to create – wait for it – actual relationships with reporters. This is why I jumped at the chance to visit the KUOW/NPR studio last month. We were invited to spend a morning at their offices to learn about their team and audience. Did you know that 26 percent of people in charge of IT purchasing in the Puget Sound area listen to KUOW? By creating a rapport with reporters (and yes, even face to face relationships in the digital age), they will learn to trust our outreach and the stories we’re telling. Win-win-win.
Orwell also wrote, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.” So maybe public relations isn’t at the bottom of his list. And if you play your pitch right, journalists will move you up on their list as well.
For the second year in a row, Barokas PR sponsored the TechCrunch Meetup and Pitch-Off in Seattle. While some of the ideas gave me flashbacks to the early 2000’s, there were a handful of companies that showed a lot of promise.
One of my favorites, and selected as the runner up by the judging panel, was Vet Commander, a company transforming the job seeking and hiring process for America’s vets. The company enables veterans to create a personal connection with an employer through a short video, allowing them to share their experiences beyond a static resume.
The winner of the evening was Essay Mentors, a service that supports students through all steps of the college essay writing process. Being a tech geek myself, I always appreciate the automation of tedious processes, and I’m sure every parent in the audience was drooling over the thought of a service that can help eliminate family feuds caused by the essay writing process.
And in what should come as no surprise to any Seattleite, Canary, a marijuana courier service, won the audience choice award. Canary was founded by two 19-year olds who showed up the rest of the presenters with a witty and enthusiastic 60-second pitch. Oddly enough, they are planning to launch later this year in the two markets where we have offices – Seattle and Denver. #Coincidence?
At the VC dinner prior to the Meetup, we had the opportunity to spend a little quality time with several TC reporters and local VCs. One of my favorite comments from the evening was made during a discussion about the enormous volume of email reporters receive each day. One reporter commented that if you search the word “revolutionary” you can delete about 90% of the pitches and press releases sent each day. AMEN. Revolutionary can joined “thrilled, pleased and excited” in the bucket of words that should be banned from pitches and press releases. If you can’t think of anything more original or compelling to say, then maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
Now, lets see if I can find a service that automates blog post writing which reflects my own voice and style.
In the opening keynote speech of last night’s GeekWire Awards, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, said “Fortune favors the geeks.” Well, so does BPR. The sold-out event attracted Seattle’s best and brightest from the tech community – nominees and groupies alike – gathered together at EMP to celebrate our version of the Academy Awards. But with better food. The BPR RallySquad crashed the party to support our incredibly talented and nominated clients: buuteeq, ExtraHop, Airbiquity, Exo Labs and Builder’s Cloud.
Last night actually started March 25. This marked the day when GeekWire readers began to nominate individuals and companies in 13 categories ranging from the expected “CEO of the Year” to the quirky, “Geekiest Office Space.” The fun really began on April 15 when the community raced to vote for their favorites from a pool of five finalists per category, selected by a panel of tech-sperts.
buuteeq, a cloud-based digital marketing system for hotels, won the “Perk of the Year” for its $2,500 travel stipend it gives employees every year. (Howie?) CEO Forest Key told an impactful story about a fellow employee who had never been out of the United States and thanks to buuteeq, she was able to travel to Nepal. Perk of the Year? More like Perk of Your Life!
ExtraHop, the global leader in real-time wire data analytics for IT operational intelligence, won the “Innovation of the Year” award for its AWS Solution, a real-time tool designed to help accelerate IT organizations’ cloud transition and give companies running applications on AWS increased visibility and efficiency. Upon acceptance Raja Mukerji, president and co-founder, gave a shout-out, in true geek-fashion, to Star Wars’ Cloud City, an outpost above planet Bespin. We know that because we just looked it up.
The night was filled with Goonies references, hamburger sliders and chicken skewers (so were we), Converse shoes, Mensa cardholders, a few hoodies and some questionable leopard print fashion choices. Basically, it was a fantastic night for all involved. Congratulations to the winners, to the nominees, to the tech community, to the sponsors and to GeekWire.
Seattle will always be the Emerald City, but last night, it was Cloud City.
I have a confession: I loathe the term marketing. As a PR pro, this is a conflict I’ve been trying to resolve for my entire career.
Hearing the word makes my stomach sink. I can’t stand the way people – myself included – look when I say marketing. Eyes roll, a slight turn of the head or shoulder so they don’t catch “it” (the marketers disease), unavoidable expressions, perhaps a grumpy cat face, a slight shiver.
Notice I did not say: I hate marketing. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I love what marketing as an industry can achieve for a business. PR especially. As an industry, we have the ability to influence customer and business behavior, create or destroy markets. Unfortunately, it comes with a negative connotation that marketers ourselves have created over time with false promises and hot air. It’s a stereotype that we’ve yet to overcome. Drastic as it might sound, if this were only a personal opinion, I’d be writing about it on a personal blog.
This is a business matter, a disease (whether you’re infected or not) amongst the business community that is more contagious than swine flu. It’s reached consumers, business execs and journalists who’ve turned their eyes, ears and devices off to any form of communication that has even the softest tickle of marketing fluff. For you, who are likely a current or potential client, this is a big problem. For me as a PR pro, and my colleagues in PR or marketing, this is a HUGE problem. And together, we must stop it.
In the debut post for our “Ugh, Marketing” blog series, let’s pull the big ball of marketing fluff out of our…mouths, and stop sounding like marketers. Here are four phrases we should be ashamed of using:
1. Strategic public relations. Synonyms include strategic planning or strategic campaign. Public relations as a function should be strategic to your business. Putting ‘strategic’ in front of PR, or any other business function, won’t make it strategic.
2. Based on customer (or consumer) demand. While market opportunity is fundamental to business success, great customer validation lies in a publicly reference-able list of these customers – including their willingness to talk about your product and the benefits gleaned.
3. We differentiate by being faster, easier, and most effective. Any brand can define what faster, easier and most effective mean. Your differentiators should be unique – as in truly, I can’t get this from anyone else different. Make sure you’re not the only one (as my marketing friends would say) “drinking the Kool-Aid” – customers and analysts should be raising their glasses with you.
4. January 2014: Your Company Announces Yet-To-Be-Developed Product, Available in December 2015. Unless you’re Apple or Microsoft, the good idea from your last product meeting isn’t news yet. Talking about features/functionality that won’t be available for several months will not only will piss off your customers who want what they can’t have, it also puts what’s ‘under your kimono’ (a phrase that should probably retire) on full display for competitors.
There are plenty of phrases to be discontinued; this is by no means an all-inclusive list. And as an industry, marketing has much more to overcome. To be continued…
There are few individuals in this field of mine willing to admit – even for that moment, even for those few seconds when their hands freeze hesitantly, arthritic with self-doubt, above the keyboard – that PR can be a despairingly thankless profession. Do not misunderstand me – I’m not referring to recognition or praise from superiors and colleagues for a job well done. I speak of the never-to-be read pitches, stories, pre- and post-briefing announcements, the introductions to introductory pitches, the follow-ups and the secondary follow-ups and the tertiary follow-ups…all making their home in the junk mail of a blogger whose page my two-year old nephew could code and has a circulation even CisionPoint wouldn’t debase itself to recognize as anything but “not applicable.” It’s this of which I speak.
Briefly, of course. For those Seattle PR’ites looking down at the dark abyss under the Aurora Bridge, poised with your toes curled like a vice over the chilled, bespeckled iron, don’t jump just yet. I haven’t renewed your faith.
A few months ago, I found myself in front of my computer attempting to write Mitch, the owner of a house recently put up for sale. Earlier in the evening, two of my dearest friends informed me that they had fallen in love with the property and it was perfect for them and their two boys, and it had a yard, and a fireplace in the master bedroom, and a fantastic view, and an art studio, etc., etc. The house had been on the market for a day and it had already triggered a bidding war. I responded with the appropriate, “Wow, sounds nice. My entire apartment would fit in the garage and my view is an asphalt wasteland. Good luck with that!”
“We want you to write a letter to the seller and convince him to let us buy the house.” Hmm…I was to write a letter (in their voice) to convince someone I’d never met to select my friends to buy a house I’d never seen? “Aerin, you’re a writer. You can write. Write it!” The level of paranoia in her voice was beginning to make me a little uncomfortable. “Make us cool. You can make us cool. Remember, Mitch is an Artist. We have corporate jobs – we’re just titles on a page. Make us…” I waited for further direction before realizing that I wasn’t going to get any. “Real. You want me to make you real.”
I asked them to each write down five adjectives and their official corporate titles. Then I took my dog for a walk. For any individual reading this who has ever experienced writer’s block, I have this advice: Get a dog. Over feed him. Take him for a walk. By the time you arrive home with five bags of dog shit in your hands, trust me, you’ll have a different perspective on life.
To be clear, I will never consider myself a writer. Steinbeck was a writer, Fitzgerald was a writer, Rushdie is a writer. I spell phonetically and was 17 before I realized that my “oops” was spelled “opps.” Opps. Flaws aside, I am in love with the written word. When used correctly, words can bring down empires, establish religions, forge laws and catalyze revolutions. Words can also get your client a feature in the New York Times, an article in Fortune, on the road to getting acquired or prepped for an IPO. In some very rare cases, words can get your friends a house.
Remember: Me and you – we wield a powerful wand. In PR, we use words to tell stories, to create and share ideas, to amuse and subtly cajole. We bring the human element, utilizing words to make an otherwise flat idea or person colorful, substantial and relevant. It’s not about luck – it’s about skill.
My friends were outbid by more than $100,000 but they got the house anyway. They move next month. Apparently, the owner really, really liked their letter.
A week ago, I relived my college days at Washington State University – although, instead of a dorm I stayed in a hotel. And rather than going to the main strip of college bars, my friend and I went to the “grownup” bar in town to grab a drink after dinner since she works for admissions. Discrepancies aside, I felt right at home! The reason for my trip was WSU’s Murrow Symposium to speak to a group of soon-to-be college graduates about what PR life is like after college. My main take away, other than a great pool of intern candidates, was a lesson on perspective.
My favorite movie quote on “perspective” comes from an exchange between the wise Hermione Granger and Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Hermione said, “We didn’t celebrate your birthday, Harry. Ginny and I…we’d prepared a cake.” To which Harry replied, “Hermione…I appreciate the thought, honestly. But given that we were almost killed by a couple of Death Eaters a few minutes ago…,” prompting Hermione to elicit my now daily mantra, “Right. Perspective.”
There’s nowhere better than your alma mater to realize how much life has changed since graduation – and in the most unlikely ways. I’ve been fortunate to find a workplace that fosters learning and growth at such an early stage of my career. If you would’ve asked me where I’d be living after graduation the LAST place I would’ve said is Seattle, even though, according to Gallup’s annual ranking, it’s the thirty-second happiest and healthiest city in America!
As I happily shared my new-found knowledge with the WSU students, it dawned on me how much I have actually learned in the last eighteen months! Going about my day-to-day activities is one thing, but it’s another to recap almost a year-and-a-half of activities in one hour. I touched on my clients, and how business-to-business (B2B) compares to business-to-consumer (B2C), a topic that seemed to elicit the most interest! We also discussed the importance of social media being used strategically for your clients. Most importantly I offered several tips for job searching. My main piece of advice was to be yourself, and be open to trying new things – whoever thought I’d be working with enterprise technology startups? Not me, but I LOVE it!
Although I’ve been on a fast learning curve, I’m looking forward to experiencing even greater opportunities for growth as my clients announce new products, funding, acquisitions, and (hopefully) much more!
Shameless plug: If you’re interested in becoming a Barokas PR intern/employee contact us here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to meet you!
Hear that? That’s the sound of the Front Range gaining serious steam.
With Denver ranking #2 on Forbes’ list of the “Best Places to Launch A Startup In 2014,” Boulder’s notorious startup scene and four large universities within hours of each other, it’s not surprising that the Front Range is a flurry with innovation and growing entrepreneurial spirit. And, as Galvanize opens a new Boulder office in addition to their Denver office and as the new class of TechStars begins this summer, there are no signs of slowing down.
All of this activity has kept the Boulder office busy. We’ve added new clients, launched new products, made new friends in the community and are growing our own Barokas family. In fact, just this week we’ve added another team member. We are now five-strong, plus the talent of the Seattle office, and could not be more thrilled with how the team is ramping up – we’re slowly taking over our Pivot Desk space! (Well, not really, but getting there.)
The recent additions to the team are perfectly timed too. Our long-term Boulder clients like PivotDesk and Rapt Media have been busy with bylines, product announcements, media briefings and events (Rapt Media’s CEO recently spoke at ad:tech and ClickZ Live). In addition, Florida-based WorldLister has a ton of great news on the horizon following their launch in December (which landed on the pages of TechCrunch and Lifehacker). Along the way, we have also worked Boulder’s Mocavo, New York-based MyCityWay and Minneapolis’ LeadPages. Great companies doing awesome work.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve added Boulder-based RoundPegg as well as an Austin-based company that will launch in the coming months. (Side note and a testament to the tight startup and TechStars community: this company graduated TechStars Austin recently!)
As we continue to meet more companies and hear how they plan to shake up industries, it truly feels like the ideas, the companies and the people in the area are firing on all cylinders. We could not be more excited about the energy within the community, and more thrilled about the great potential in the Front Range.
Okay it’s not really a new study and it wasn’t really that scientific, but let’s not get lost in the details. The point is, being a great PR person takes smarts, tenacity, caffeine, creativity, and a great imagination. Barokas PR is looking for the next great mind(s) to join our team. If you are passionate about technology and storytelling, and you’re not a newbie to the world of PR, we’d love to chat with you.
At BPR we embrace a NO BS culture and approach to the work. We’re a smart group of folks who make a habit of drawing outside the lines and rocking the boat. While we take our work seriously, we’re not full of ourselves, and politics have no place in the agency. For 16 years, technology companies have relied on us to tell their stories and help them achieve greatness. We’re looking for the next generation of smart storytellers to join our team and continue the legacy of PR minus the BS. Head over to our job posting here or drop Jack a note if you’re awesome: email@example.com
We were recently asked to provide a prospect with a list of our longest client relationships. While we typically rattle off the same few names in response to this question, I thought it would be fun to pull together a list of our top 10 longest client relationships. In order of longevity (drumroll please):
Pokémon – 10 years! Current client since 2004.
Opsware / HP – 7 years. Opsware acquired by HP in 2007 (PR partner from 2001-2008)
BDA – 8 years. Current client since 2006.
Concur – 6 years
Skytap – 6 years. Current client since 2008.
Clearwell Systems – 6 years. Acquired by Symantec in 2011 (PR partner from 2005-2011)
Redback /Ericsson – 6 years. Acquired by Ericsson in 2006 (PR partner from 2006-2012)
Apptio – 3.5 years
Cascadia – 3.5 years
Classmates – 3 years
As the list demonstrates, we take great pride not only in the work we deliver to our clients, but in the relationships we build with them. If you’ve worked with us, you know that the foundation of our relationship is a true partnership and that we don’t buy in to the client/vendor mentality. We aren’t afraid to push back on our clients to achieve the best results, and we’re not afraid to admit if we’re wrong (because lets face it, no one is right 100% of the time). This philosophy is core to our agency and has produced the long-term client relationships noted above.
Of course, none of these relationships could have been forged without the hard work and dedication of the Barokas PR team. Below are some of the values our team aligned themselves to several years back, and I’m happy to say they continue to serve as a guiding light for our agency.
We Go the Extra Mile
Our team believes in hard work and the power of perseverance. You will never see us accept mediocrity, and we put in the extra hours to make our client’s PR campaigns successful. For example, last year, our team burned the midnight oil to secure customer quote approvals that required real time coordination across India, Boston, Seattle and the Bay Area.
We Say It Like It Is
Our motto – PR Minus the BS – really sums this up. It might not always be comfortable, but being direct saves time and sets everyone up for success. For example, if a run of the mill partner press release isn’t going to drive significant coverage, wouldn’t a client rather hear that upfront then a bunch of lame excuses after the fact? And if it isn’t gong to drive coverage, then shouldn’t you recommend a different strategy for sharing the news?
This is a key tenant to any successful client relationship. Many PR folks have created a bad rap for the industry by overpromising and under delivering, or charging for hours of PR work that don’t net any real results. By holding ourselves accountable, we’ve been a trusted partner in driving our clients’ businesses forward, quarter after quarter, year after year.
I hope that at this time next year, I can add a few more names to the list above as we have several clients nearing the three-year mark. Please check back for an update.
And now, off to Cross Fit to work on a different type of longevity!